Row Over Proposed Enoch Powell Blue Plaque, 50 Years After ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech

Controversial politician Enoch Powell pictured on Westminster Bridge in view of the Houses of Parliament as he prepares to return to the House of Commons following his resignation from the Conservative Party, London, October 23rd 1975. (Photo by Roger Jackson/Central Press/Getty Images)
Roger Jackson/Getty

Thousands of people have backed a proposal to commemorate the late, controversial Member of Parliament Enoch Powell with a blue plaque in his former constituency city of Wolverhampton.

This coming April will mark the 50th anniversary of Mr. Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, in which he warned of the negative effects of mass migration.

Ahead of the anniversary, Wolverhampton Civic and Historical Society received an application for a plaque commemorating the man, who was an MP in the city for 24 years.

The revelation sparked a heated debate, with more than 20,000 people voting in a poll run by regional paper the Express & Star.

Around 70 per cent of readers backed the plaque, and a number of people said they were prepared to fund the £1,000 cost of commemoration.

Others, however, spoke out against the proposal, including the bishops of Wolverhampton and Lichfield, who backed a petition to block the plaque.

Wolverhampton Bishop Clive Gregory said it would be “widely interpreted as honouring Enoch Powell’s racist views”.

“It is disingenuous to suggest that the conferring of a blue plaque on such a divisive figure would be a ‘neutral’ act,” he added in a statement.

All three of city’s current Labour MPs – Emma Reynolds, Pat McFadden, and Eleanor Smith – also declared their opposition to commemorating their predecessor.

Wolverhampton’s blue plaques secretary, Barry Hodgson, told the Daily Telegraph that some opponents had gone further and made threats.

“One person has already written on the blog that if we put it up he will take it down. It could well be a target for vandalism,” he said, whilst insisting his organisation’s decision on the matter would not be political.

However, Nigel Hastilow, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate and editor of the Birmingham Post, defended the proposal in an article titled: “Enoch Powell’s legacy much more than one speech – of course he should have a plaque.”

He pointed out that Communist philosopher Karl Marx has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque, despite his ideology being connected with the deaths of tens of millions of people, adding:

“Some lefties who enjoy causing trouble would doubtless be up in arms at the prospect of a plaque to Powell. They might arm themselves with pots of paint to make their point.

“But that is no reason why we should be afraid of commemorating the fact that Wolverhampton was the home for many years of one of the most important British politicians of the 20th century.

“Some people will complain that such a plaque commemorates racism because Powell is, as we know, most notorious for his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which he gave 50 years ago.

“But his significance is much more than one speech. Erudite, scholarly, a poet and philosopher, a brigadier in the army during the war and a prominent politician, there is much to celebrate in Powell’s life and work.”


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